Revisiting Penal Substitution -- By: Kevin D. Kennedy

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 02:2 (Fall 2004)
Article: Revisiting Penal Substitution
Author: Kevin D. Kennedy


Revisiting Penal Substitution

Kevin D. Kennedy

Assistant Professor of Theology
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
2001 W. Seminary Drive
Fort Worth, Texas 76115

Jesus paid it all,
all to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.1

Evangelicals, in their preaching as well as their worship, have recognized that the cross of Christ is central to the life of the believer, as evidenced by the refrain from the popular hymn above. We, together with all Christians, find great significance in the cross of Christ. However, evangelicals almost unanimously interpret the cross in terms of what has come to be known as the penal substitution theory of the atonement. The basic understanding of this view of the atonement is that we are all under obligation to obey God. However, our disobedience to God has placed us under his condemnation. Since “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), we have all earned death as a consequence of our sins. Therefore, we owe God the debt of our very own lives. When Jesus died on the cross for sinners, he was paying the debt that we owed God so that we would not have to pay with our own lives. In other words, Jesus substituted his life for ours so that we need not die eternal death in hell for our own sins.

There is yet another important aspect of the penal substitution view in addition to the idea of substitution. This view of the atonement stresses the fact that our sin has kindled God’s wrath

against us. As a righteous God, God rightly declares that sin is inherently deserving of punishment. Were God not to punish our sins, this would be a tacit admission that his previous judgment that our sin deserves punishment is itself an unjust judgment. However, since there is no injustice in God (Rom. 9:14), it follows that our sins must be punished. Therefore, Jesus suffered the wrath of God in our stead when God punished him in our place on the cross. The idea that Jesus suffered the wrath of God in our place can readily be seen in the words of the hymn “Alas, and did my Savior Bleed”

Thy body slain, sweet Jesus, Thine—
And bathed in its own blood—
While the firm mark of wrath divine,
His Soul in anguish stood.2

In summary, the penal substitution view of the atonement holds that Jesus not only died in our place so that we need not die, but in his death he took upon himself th...

You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
Click here to subscribe
visitor : : uid: ()